I see him, over there, by the tree. I’ve been watching him run around for hours, playing on the swings, hanging off of the monkey bars, and chasing after the ducks. It’s hot outside today, and it doesn’t help that this kid is wearing a black long-sleeved shirt and full-length jeans. His mom wants every inch of his skin protected from the sun, the old fashioned way, since she doesn’t trust the unpronounceable chemicals on the back of the sunscreen bottles. He plops down on the ground, taking a break, giving his cherry red cheeks a chance to return to their natural pale color. He lies on his stomach and pulls a magnifying glass from the back of his jeans. As he brings the magnifying glass closer to his face, my eyelashes repeatedly brush the glass of the binoculars I am nearly pressing against my eyelids.
The view I see is so peaceful, almost picturesque. There’s a little boy laying on his stomach under the shade of a tree, and he’s playing with a magnifying glass, using it to observe a flower. My own view from my binoculars is limited, though. Any stranger walking by would see the scene of a little boy playing in a park. Yet, looming in the background, a person dressed in all black sits in a car, intensely staring and watching this child’s every move.
Putting the binoculars down, I still see the boy holding the magnifying glass too close to his face. He doesn’t notice the empty park. He doesn’t notice the dark clouds forming in the sky. He doesn’t notice the disappearance of his babysitter. I still see him through the glass window of the car. He is in his own world, looking through the magnifying glass.
If his parents were around, they would be running around trying to pack up their picnic blankets. They would be putting him into a car, making sure he’s secured in a car seat and fastened properly with a seatbelt. He would be falling asleep in the back of the car, and then his parents would be carrying him up to his bed, tucking him in, and giving him a kiss on the forehead. If only I could remember nights like those, where I drifted off to sleep dreaming peacefully.
Instead, my mother ran around our house locking the doors and flicking all three of the deadbolts into place. She made sure every window was shut, ensuring no thing could come inside her house. While she tucked my brothers and I into bed, instead of goodnight kisses, she told us stories. She created pictures of the monsters and ghosts that lived in our living room at night. She painted scenes of little boys and girls dismembered by some psycho with a chainsaw, all because they left their house at night alone. Most hauntingly, there was an image of blood-red flames swallowing a house, engulfing it with the heavy darkness of smoke. These stories burned in my mind, accompanied by the screaming of the children who had played with the stove. My brothers and I huddled together underneath the blankets, truly terrified, and scared straight. But we knew the rules my mom had for us. Never leave the house at night. Don’t touch the stove when she’s at work. Go to bed when she’s not home.
I tossed and turned all night, so much that my brothers kicked me out of the bed. I was forced to spend many nights on the couch in our living room. Hiding under the blankets, I imagined they were impenetrable shields, protecting me from any monsters. After hours of refusing to close my eyes, trembling at every creak or moan the house made, I would blink my eyes once. Then I opened them as my mom returned from her job. She carried me back to the bed with my brothers, and she hugged me close to her as she crawled under the sheets with us.
My mom never stopped telling us these stories, even if we asked. She knew that we were scared. She liked that we listened to her. She taught us by scaring us. The little boy with the magnifying glass loves to run away from his parents. He loves to hide from his babysitters. He loves the attention he gets after being found. He is about to be taught a very important rule by my mom’s philosophy.
I pull on the bulkiest coat that I could find in my house. It’s a thick winter jacket that evelopes my entire body, making me look monstrous. I tuck my hair into a beanie, pull on the hood of the coat, and slide sunglasses on my face. I stare out the window again. It’s darker. Perhaps it’s because I have sunglasses tinting my vision, or because the nature of my plan is influencing my surroundings. I get out of the car and walk in his direction. His back is turned towards me. The thumping sound of the boots I’m wearing amplifies as I break out into a run. My arms are pumping vigorously, making that loud swishing sound of fabric rubbing against fabric. The boots continue to pound into the ground, and he finally turns to look at me. He freezes for a second, and then begins to run. As I chase him around, I can’t help but think of a time I was in a similar situation.
A woman once chased me around her house. I tripped over rugs, knocked over chairs, and jumped over the sofa to avoid her. But, she caught me, trapped me between her arms, and tilted my face up to meet her. I knew this woman, she was my grandmother. However, in the moment, as she opened her mouth and smiled a huge gaping toothless smile, she wasn’t the grandma I knew and loved. It was my fault I was stuck in that position. I hated brushing my teeth and how the rough bristles of the toothbrush would cut my mouth, leaving me with sore cheeks and irritated gums. I tried everything to avoid it. But my grandma chased me around her house, screaming at me, asking me if I wanted to end up like her. Was her smile pretty? Did I also want no teeth and no smile? To this day, the chase still haunts me, and that toothless smile has taught me. I will never go a day in my life without brushing my teeth at least twice.
I hold the kid in my arms, the same way my grandma held me all those years ago, and wrestle him to the ground, trapping him underneath me. I grab both of his wrists in one of my hands, and carry him back to my car. He’s screaming and crying, but there’s no one around to help him. I open the car door, and toss him into the back seat. I’ve taught him, and traumatized him. He will not hide from the people who have to watch him. My aunt will be grateful that he won’t run away from her again. I’m going to be paid for doing this. This boy, my little cousin, is going to remember this lesson for the rest of his life. It’s too bad he has to learn it the hard way, but it’s necessary.
When I step out of that picture of the little boy I’ve painted in my head, I know that the sun will set and the darkness will creep in. It’s a darkness you want to hide your kids from. Scaring kids, teaching with fear, is a way to introduce them to reality without, in my cousin’s case, leaving them vulnerable to being actually kidnapped.
About the Author
Ellie Nguyen is a rising sophomore at Fordham University, planning to major in English and minor in Italian while on the pre-health track. She loves reading and writing short stories as an escape from her grueling chemistry homework. Originally from Holland, Michigan, she enjoys collecting perfumes, playing the violin, and horseback riding during her free time.